I propose to takes Questions Nos. 1 to 81, inclusive, together.
I last answered questions on European Council matters on 16 December 2014. There are 81 questions of this type placed by Deputies today which were received on a weekly basis since that time and they have gathered on the Order Paper. I delivered pre-Council and post-Council statements on the December 2014 European Council on 17 December and 27 January 2015, respectively, and pre-Council and post-Council statements on the March 2015 European Council on 11 March and 24 March, respectively. It has not previously been the case that Deputies have had the opportunity to comment both before and after European Council meetings. I have dealt with many of the issues raised in the questions today. However, I am, of course, happy to go over this ground again with Deputies with respect to the questions they wish to ask today.
I attended the European Council meeting on 19 December 2014 and reported to the House on it in my statement on 27 January. The December European Council did not discuss or adopt conclusions on the Ebola crisis, Palestine, Syria or Egypt, or with regard to refugees from Africa and the Middle East. There was no discussion about extreme right-wing racist groups or the growth of so-called anti-austerity parties in the European Union either in December or at other recent meetings of the European Council. I attended the informal meeting of EU Heads of State and Government on 12 February. The main issues were counter-terrorism, the situation in Ukraine and strengthening Economic and Monetary Union. I had no formal bilateral meetings on the margins of that meeting; however, I did have an opportunity to engage in informal discussions with a number of colleagues, including the Greek Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras, who at the time had just recently entered office. Proposed military action by the United States against ISIS was not discussed at the February meeting.
I attended the European Council on 19 and 20 March and reported to the House on the outcomes of that meeting in my statement on 24 March. There were no discussions on the situation in Syria or about Israel and Palestine. The agenda for the March meeting was prepared in the normal way. President Tusk circulated an annotated draft agenda and draft conclusions which were then considered by COREPER and the General Affairs Council which was attended by the Minister of State, Deputy Dara Murphy. Ireland's views were contributed at each stage of the process. I had no formal bilateral meetings at the March European Council, but I did, of course, see and speak to many of my counterpart leaders at the meeting. There was an extraordinary meeting of the European Council on 23 April which was convened to address the migration crisis in the Mediterranean, which is still of great concern to everybody. The European Central Bank interest rate was not discussed at the meeting because it was not called for that purpose.
I will respond to questions about specific thematic areas which were recently addressed by the European Council. I did not meet specifically Italian Prime Minister, Mr. Renzi, about the recent tragic incidents in the Mediterranean. However, the Prime Minister and I both attended the extraordinary meeting of the European Council on 23 April. I contributed to that meeting, as would be normal. The scale of the recent tragic loss of life in the Mediterranean is appalling and shocking and underlines the importance of the European Union acting urgently and as one to address this complex ongoing crisis. As we are in the House, people are walking from areas of strife and war, heading for borders in the hope they can make their way from Libya across the Mediterranean. Foreign Ministers met together with Justice and Home Affairs Ministers before the extraordinary European Council and welcomed a ten point plan by the European Commission as the basis for further work in addressing the irregular flow of migration which has such serious consequences for many. Tomorrow the Commission will publish its European agenda on migration which will propose a comprehensive approach to migration issues, including those highlighted by the European Council.
At the extraordinary European Council I was pleased to be in a position to indicate that Ireland would contribute a naval vessel and crew to take part in humanitarian efforts, subject, of course, to the mandate and other legal issues being clarified. This morning the Cabinet agreed to a memorandum from the Minister for Defence to approve this contribution.
The ship and its crew will make their way towards the Mediterranean in accordance with conditions and the understandings arrived at with our European colleagues. I also indicated at the meeting that we had approved additional funding for the International Committee of the Red Cross and the UN Relief and Works Agency. That brings our total funding to those affected by the Syria crisis to €41 million, which is a considerable allocation from a country of Ireland's size. The issue of migration was also discussed in the context of the Libyan crisis at the March European Council.
I was asked a question on the Juncker investment plan. The December European Council, on which I reported, gave strong political backing to the investment plan put forward by Commission President, Mr. Juncker, and agreed that a European fund for strategic investments, or EFSI, should be established. I am pleased to report that there has since been strong progress in establishing the EFSI. Finance Ministers have agreed a general approach on the draft regulation and negotiations with the European Parliament are under way. The March European Council reinforced its expectation that there will be political agreement on this by June. I was also asked about the co-ordination of economic policy. The December European Council reiterated the need for closer co-ordination of economic policies to ensure a smooth functioning of economic and monetary union. It was agreed that the presidents of the European Council, Commission, ECB and Eurogroup, working together with the member states, will progress work in this area with a view to reporting to the European Council meeting in June. The informal meeting of Heads of State and Government in February also considered this issue on the basis of an analytical note presented by Commission President, Mr. Juncker. A further two follow-up meetings to discuss preparations for the June European Council have been held at senior official level and another meeting will take place later this month.
On tax, I note that the European Council in December reiterated the urgent need to advance efforts in the fight against tax avoidance and aggressive tax planning at both the EU and wider global level. It also looked forward to the Commission's proposal on the automatic exchange of information on tax rulings in the EU. The European Commission has since published its tax transparency package, which includes a legislative proposal on the automatic exchange of information on tax rulings. Ireland supports the automatic exchange of information between tax authorities as an important tool in the fight against tax fraud and evasion and we look forward to its implementation at EU and global level. Tax harmonisation was not discussed at the December European Council. Ireland strongly opposes the harmonisation of tax rates as it would reduce the flexibility of member states, particularly smaller member states, to deploy taxation policy in support of broader economic policies.
On the questions on energy, ensuring that Europe's citizens and businesses have a reliable, secure, affordable and sustainable supply of energy is one of the five priority strands of the strategic agenda agreed by the European Council in June last year. The European Council in March discussed a number of concrete and measurable steps to deliver energy union and to ensure affordable, sustainable and secure energy for all member states. The discussions focused on two key matters; enhancing energy security, and reaping the benefits of the internal energy market. Diversifying the routes and sources of our energy and putting in place appropriate infrastructure to support that diversification are critical for Ireland. At my instigation, a specific reference to peripheral regions was included in the section of the European Council conclusions dealing with infrastructure and interconnection in respect of energy. With regard to implementing the energy union framework, the Commission is in the process of establishing a governance system in consultation with member states and will produce a state of the energy union report at the end of this year.
The December European Council called on the EU and USA to make all efforts to conclude negotiations on an ambitious, comprehensive and mutually beneficial transatlantic trade and investment partnership, TTIP, by the end of 2015. Since then, there have been two rounds of talks with the USA and a further negotiating round will take place before the summer. Discussions on a number of areas are continuing and the basic architecture of the agreement is emerging. During my visit to the USA for St. Patrick's Day, I reaffirmed to both President Obama and the US trade representative, Mike Froman, Ireland's commitment to reaching a mutually beneficial and ambitious agreement. I briefed my counterparts at the March European Council on these discussions on TTIP with US interlocutors. The European Council discussed the state of play in the negotiations and agreed that the EU and the USA should make every effort to conclude negotiations on an ambitious, comprehensive and mutually beneficial agreement by the end of the year. The fear is that if the agreement is not concluded this year, it will be difficult to get a conclusion given the movement towards the American primaries and subsequent presidential election. It was also agreed that member states and the Commission should step up efforts to communicate the benefits of the agreement and enhance dialogue with civil society. The Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Richard Bruton, and Commissioner Cecilia Malmström took part in a well attended seminar on TTIP in Dublin Castle on 27 March where an authoritative economic analysis of the very positive likely impact of an agreement on Ireland was launched.
I was asked about retrospective capitalisation. The possible use of the European Stability Mechanism for bank recapitalisation has not been raised at recent European Council meetings or in my contacts with ECB President Mario Draghi. While direct recapitalisation by the ESM remains an option, I reiterate that it is no longer the only, or necessarily the best, option open to Ireland.